Looking back over my past 20 years, there have been probably a couple of dozen real stalwarts who have stuck with me, keeping the faith through the inevitable ups and downs that go with working within the charitable sector. One of the most loyal has been my great friend the Rev, Willie McNaughton, the retired minister from West End Congregational Church in Kirkcaldy, Fife. That church and Willie have been there since the ground floor back in 2000 and each year I have been going to the church, religiously you might say, to update the congregation on progress and to receive the proceeds of the church’s annual fundraising for the kids in Nepal. Willie and the church fully merited their mention in my memoir, Gates of Bronze. Indeed, the church is one of the generous contributors towards the pledge fund that will allow us to match at least some of the sponsorship raised through The Big Story.
Willie is a character, to say the least, with the boisterous Glaswegian humour that permeates his services and sermons the stuff of local legend. Underneath it all, there is a very serious side to Dr McNaughton, who has dedicated years of his life to researching and documenting the history of the Congregationalists in Scotland. The volumes that he has written so eruditely are impressive, but there’s a bit of me that feels a lingering sense of waste, of a writing talent that is being denied us. Based upon his wealth of anecdotes, I’d love to read Willie’s memoir that I hope he can get around to writing not so much for posterity but to cheer us all up. As I see it, humour is a vitally important ingredient in the best of prose.
This morning I asked Willie if he would mind contributing to this blog. In response, he shared with me a forthcoming sermon from which, with his agreement, I am presenting extracts below. When I was stationed in Inverness, Scotland, in the mid 1980’s a friend in the Officers’ Mess introduced me to the Scottish comedian, the late Rikki Fulton. Rikki was at the time very popular in Scotland for his long-running sketch show called “Scotch and Wry”. One of the characters he acted was a lugubrious church minister called the “Rev I M Jolly”. Click on the image below and enjoy!
“The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to laugh and a time to weep. Well, I have done a bit of weeping lately and in the midst of one such event I found myself laughing with my best friend whose wife was dangerously ill. And I thank God that in the midst of our weeping we were able to laugh.
It caused me to reflect on laughter. Laughter is the language of everyone. You can laugh lovingly in any language and it is understood.
One name that we associate with laughter in Scotland is that of Rikki Fulton and especially with his alter ego the Reverend I. M. Jolly; with whom I have no difficulty in identifying. You know, a good number of years ago now, Rikki Fulton was invited to Trinity College in Glasgow to speak for fifteen minutes after lunch and it was only too apparent that he was a man who loved his job. “I don’t want to make people laugh,” he said. “I want to make them shriek!”
Even after a pantomime had been running for nearly four months, he said, he still couldn’t wait to get on the stage to make contact with his audience. He told of the joy of receiving a letter from some saddened soul who, in the theatre, had found again God’s gift of laughter. You could not help feeling the difference between this man eager in his job – sparing no pains to perfect it – and the dull dispirited, dreary mood of some folk. There was a quiet serene vitality about the man that you would search for in vain in many a church.
Rikki Fulton lived in Knightswood, around the corner from a friend of mine who was called to a church in Knightswood. When he moved in, the Manse garden was a mess. He was busy trying to tidy the garden up shortly after moving in when a voice behind him said “You’re making a bit of a difference there”. He turned around to see who had spoken and said with surprise, “Hey! You’re Rikki Fulton!” To which Fulton replied, “Well, I was when I left the house!”
When you are writing your memoir, see what you can do to embed some humour or a funny little anecdote into your work. It will make all the difference and, heaven knows, we need a laugh at present.
Following my exchange with Willie, I tracked down Rikki Fulton’s autobiography “Is It That Time Already?” and I now have it on order. Lockdown should be taken as a great opportunity for both reading and writing. The Evening Times review on the cover describes it as being “A breeze of a book with real panache”. I don’t doubt it – and I hope the same can be said of your memoir. After I’ve read Rikki’s memoir, I’m going to send it to Willie. It might inspire him to get his own wry, Scottish humour into print!